Monday, December 30, 2013

FAA decision on UAS doesn't change Arizona's reputation for aviation excellence

The FAA today announced its decision for locations that will serve as UAS test sites. Unfortunately, Arizona was not one of the six sites. But the state has laid the groundwork to ensure we’re poised to be a leader in the emerging civilian UAS industry.

We’re already a leader in UAS testing at our military installations (Ft. Huachuca just welcomed a new regiment of unmanned aircraft), we’ve got the F-35 headed to Luke AFB soon, we offer world class commercial airports, a business environment that encourages manufacturing and start-ups, education leaders like Embry Riddle and great flying weather. Going after the FAA application just underscored Arizona’s well-deserved reputation for cutting edge aerospace research, testing, training and manufacturing.

I am especially encouraged by the statewide collaboration that characterized our pursuit of the FAA designation. The worlds of business, higher education and government came together to tout Arizona’s aerospace and defense assets that will support UAS.

This is only the beginning. Our state’s vast, open airspaces where safe testing can occur, diverse geography, year-round climate for testing, a strong aerospace and defense sector, numerous runways and airstrips, and statewide support for the expansion of the UAS industry aren’t going anywhere; this is an industry that won’t be limited to just a few areas of the country.

Decisions made by government agencies with nationwide implications are complicated and are often impacted by all sorts of external factors. We might never get the full picture of why some applicants were chosen and others were not. But nothing about today’s decision changes the fact that Arizona offers, and will continue to offer, a great environment for the future of the aerospace industry.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Out of Africa: U.S. Chamber discusses emerging opportunities for U.S. engagement

The Arizona Chamber yesterday morning was fortunate to host Scott Eisner, Vice President of African Affairs and International Operations for the U.S. Chamber at our office for a roundtable discussion on emerging markets and opportunities in Africa.

Scott is an Arizona native – his parents moved here in the 1970s when, as he tells it, many considered Arizona to be the wild, untamed west. This is not unlike the view many of us have of African nations today; often we think of them as underdeveloped nations that need our charity, rather than partners in commerce.

While charity is still critical in many parts of the continent, Scott challenges us to look at Africa as an opportunity for investment and trade, not just aid. As rock star and philanthropist Bono said, "commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid."

And the time for U.S. investment in and trade with Africa has never been better. Currently, seven of the ten fastest growing economies are in Africa, and the number of citizens considered to be middle class has tripled since 1980. Scott specifically identified three important areas of opportunity for U.S. engagement in Africa:

1.       Consumer services
Africa’s current labor force consists of 500 million people and is expected to balloon to 1 billion by 2040. Most of Africa’s consumer goods currently come from China, but there is an enormous appetite for American products, which represents great potential for American companies.

2.       Agriculture and natural resources
Africa is home to 60 percent of the world’s arable land, 10 percent of the world’s known oil supply, 20 percent of the world’s gold supply and 80 to 90 percent of the world’s platinum and chromium. However, they currently lack the infrastructure and investment to capitalize on these remarkable resources.

3.       Infrastructure
Scott highlighted this as the greatest opportunity for American engagement. African countries are lacking infrastructure at every level - from a power grid to IT systems to airports and seaports. Sixty-eight percent of Africans do not even have access to power. The ability to build and maintain this infrastructure represents an enormous opportunity.

Scott has traveled extensively across the continent and lived in Malawi, Africa. His deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities across the fifty-four unique nations of Africa made for fascinating conversation and we are grateful he was able to talk to us yesterday morning.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Arizona’s highest court hands business community a free speech megaphone

The Arizona Supreme Court yesterday issued a historic order that represents a huge win for the voice of Arizona’s job creators. This will have very positive implications for all legislative and statewide office races in the upcoming cycle and, when coupled with the U.S. Supreme Court’s disposal of a matching-funds provision, greatly diminishes the attractiveness of using of taxpayer dollars to fund campaigns.

Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission v. Brain stems from a bill that Rep. JD Mesnard introduced last session. Rep. Mesnard recognized that Arizona’s contribution limits and the restrictions on PACs and SuperPACs were adversely impacting the ability of the business community and others to exercise their political voices. He introduced H.B. 2593, which increased the contribution limits for PACs, Super PACs and individuals, and removed the aggregate limits for contributions candidates can receive from PACs.

This latter provision is a game-changer for Arizona organizations with PACs. Because candidates can no longer “PAC out,” an organization’s free speech is no longer limited by how quickly it can get a check to a campaign.

The bill was signed by Gov. Brewer, and then challenged by the Citizens’ Clean Elections Commission. CCEC alleged that the 1998 ballot initiative that created it also froze the 1998 contribution limits in place, subject only to future inflation adjustments. Further, CCEC argued that because the Voter Protection Act was also on the ballot in 1998, those limits were voter-protected and could only be adjusted by going back to the ballot.

Kudos to attorney Mike Liburdi, who represented Senate President Andy Biggs and House Speaker Andy Tobin, for defending the law. Liburdi argued that the 1998 initiative did not enact specific dollar caps but simply created a formula. Legislators, he explained, were free to change the limits at any time, subject to the 20 percent reduction contained in the original ballot measure.

The Arizona Chamber weighed in on the issue as well, filing amicus curiae brief in conjunction with the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce and Greater Phoenix Leadership to make the case for the removal of aggregate PAC limits. Attorney Andy Gordon prepared the brief on behalf of the amici, as well as a supplemental brief that the Justices asked amici to prepare on an issue of statutory construction.

So what does all this mean? It means that thanks to the hard work of some incredibly smart people and support from our members and partners, the highest court in our state has upheld these new limits and strengthened the voice of the Arizona business community.

The changes to the limits are significant. For a candidate for statewide office, the new limit is $2,000 in the primary election and another $2,000 in the general, up from the old limit of $912. Legislative candidates also are subject to the $2,000 limit per election, up from a cap of $440.The cap for “super PACs,” or political-action committees, is up to $10,000 from $2,000.

Stay tuned, the full opinion of the Court may not be available for a few months. Understanding the “why” in this case will be just as critical for the business community as we navigate election and campaign finance laws moving forward.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Crossing the border: From problem to possibility

Border issues are of great importance to Arizona. Trade between Arizona and Mexico totaled $12 billion in 2012 alone. That’s not a small number.

The health of Arizona’s economy depends on good trade policy and good relations with our southern neighbor, characterized by improved transportation links, increased international flights to and from Mexico, strengthened infrastructure and the resources necessary to process the trade taking place in the region. Without these modifications, our country and state will miss out on significant economic opportunities.

On Monday I headed to Tucson to participate in a field hearing on these issues, led by Rep. Matt Salmon, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. Several of Rep. Salmon’s colleagues also participated in the bipartisan panel, including Reps. Ron Barber, Kyrsten Sinema, David Schweikert and Albio Sires of New Jersey. Together, the panel discussed methods for improving trade and ensuring a successful re-launch of the Mariposa Port of Entry at Nogales following a long remodel and expansion.

I had the opportunity to speak on behalf of Arizona businesses, representing the issues most important to promoting continued trade and commercial growth. One of the biggest issues at hand is the overhaul of Mariposa. While significant improvements have been made, there are still concerns surrounding the staffing level and ability of the port to handle the flow of traffic. It’s essential that efforts be made to allot the appropriate level of staff resources at this site. Without this allocation, miles-long backups will continue and efforts to expedite business will be futile.

Improved transportation links in this area must also be a top priority for our leaders. The recent federal designation of Interstate 11, linking Las Vegas and Phoenix, was a welcome step by Congress. I-11 is an essential component for linking Mexico, the United States and Canada – also known as the Canamex trade corridor. However, bottlenecks must also be remedied in order for trucks to access this new highway. Without the reconfiguration of Arizona189, freight trucks will face continued congestion in their attempts to reach Interstate 19 between Nogales and Tucson, costing business significant time, money and resources.

The Arizona Republic editorial board today published a great piece on the hearing and the importance of the issue, identifying our border as a possibility, not a problem. Arizonans are taking note of the potential our border holds. If handled correctly and provided the necessary resources, our state (and nation) has the potential to maximize these economic opportunities.

I thank Rep. Salmon for representing our state on this issue and for bringing together members of our delegation and business community. Solutions aren’t always easy and work certainly remains to be done, but Arizona is ready and able to tackle the challenge. And the business community is ready to help.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Putting together a Tallented team

Last week’s news that Speaker of the House John Boehner had appointed a new adviser on immigration issues deserved the A1, above-the-fold treatment it received from The Arizona Republic. This was no ordinary hiring.

Boehner naming Rebecca Tallent is not only a great pickup of someone who knows firsthand the challenges of immigration reform; it’s a sign that the speaker is serious about making something happen on immigration in 2014. Naysayers contend that an election year precludes any significant immigration action, but Boehner has said that immigration reform is not dead, and he’s backing that claim up by assembling the right team.

Becky most recently headed up immigration issues for the Bipartisan Policy Center, a respected policy shop pushing commonsense reforms across various issue areas. But Arizona knows Becky as an alumnus of the offices former Rep. Jim Kolbe and Sen. John McCain. She knows the history of this issue better than most, having devoted much of her professional life to crafting practicable immigration solutions.

Becky also has insight into the unique issues facing border states like Arizona. She understands that reform without security upgrades along our borders isn’t likely to get very far. Her border perspective should also help our land border ports of entry get increased attention as the legislative conversation continues.

The immigration package the U.S. Senate passed earlier this year is not going to get passed by the House without getting sliced and diced, likely into several smaller bills. But that’s okay. The House has different pressure points and it’s perfectly acceptable for that body to assemble its own legislation. But the speaker of the House is putting the right pieces in place to get a deal done. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tougher education standards don’t undercut local control

The business community’s support for more rigorous education standards is motivated by a desire to ensure that tomorrow’s economy has the talented workforce available that is necessary to keep the nation competitive. It is not about whether schoolchildren should be learning cursive handwriting. Stories continue to pop up about how the standards, known in our state as the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, are injecting politics into elementary school grammar lessons or are edging out the teaching of quality literature.

The truth is that the Standards themselves do not have the power to do any of these things. Certain critics who oppose the fact that Arizona collaborated with other states and experts to redesign our inadequate standards continue to confuse education standards- a set of learning goals by academic subject- with curriculum- the materials and lesson plans teachers use to help students reach these goals.
Education standards are and always have been a set of learning goals to measure students’ progress and ensure they remain on track to be college or career ready upon graduation from high school. The standards are set by the state, and enacted by local schools.

In some states, schools are denied the ability to choose the curriculum they prefer because the state controls all textbook and curriculum decisions.

Not in Arizona.

Here, we have long valued local control and therefore only the local school boards and teachers have the discretion to determine which textbooks, curricula and other materials are used in their schools. These materials are required to be adopted in public meetings, to allow for community involvement and input on what is appropriate for use in the classroom. Local school boards are, however, precluded by state law from adopting any materials or curricula that are of a sectarian or partisan nature, or which advocate for the overthrow of the government.  

Some critics of the Standards have misleadingly labeled instructional materials or lessons as mandated by the standards themselves. While this is not accurate, we should also not be so quick to criticize some of these materials.

The reason Arizona adopted these new Standards is to improve what students learn by teaching critical-thinking, problem solving and effective communication skills. Upon careful consideration, some of the lessons under attack in the recent dust up appear to do exactly that.

Take, for example a recent lesson that was derided by The Weekly Standard as undermining the teaching of U.S. history by instructing teachers to “[r]efrain from giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset…This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text…and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Lincoln’s address.”

On further inspection, the lesson in its entirety is deeper and probably more memorable than most U.S. history lessons in our schools today. By avoiding context at the outset, students learn how to gain knowledge from the text itself. Once they have taken all they can from reading the text and any knowledge they bring to the reading, the teacher adds in context and challenges the students to understand exactly what Lincoln was trying to say, up to and including reading through several versions of the speech that Lincoln drafted.

I’m not a teacher, so I really cannot say definitively whether the lesson in question is truly the best way to teach Lincoln’s greatest speech. But the lesson explores the address more rigorously than I recall being taught.

We will continue to hear examples of less-than-great lesson plans, curricula that are irrelevant or classes that promote ideals contrary to those of most Americans. But that was also the case long before the College and Career Ready Standards. When parents and community leaders encounter such issues, they can and should be addressed locally at the governing board level.

Arizona adopted new standards because our policymakers recognized that our previous standards weren’t cutting it in a fast-paced, rapidly changing economy. This in no way undercuts the local control over curriculum that Arizona has always valued. We should encourage our local school boards, parents and community members to critically examine and adopt curricula that are aligned with the new standards and encourage this richer, deeper learning.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Sen. Flake organizes Arizona-only listening session with EPA, stakeholders

Even an oncoming haboob couldn’t stop this guy- from his time in the House through today, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake has always insisted that the federal government listen to Arizona on the critical issues that affect our state.

He proved this once again today by organizing an Arizona-only listening session with the Environmental Protection Agency and Arizona stakeholders to discuss the forthcoming content of the EPA’s draft rule on the process by which so-called “exceptional events” related to air quality standards are submitted to the EPA for review. Sen. Flake hosted a stakeholder meeting back in September at the Arizona Chamber to discuss this same issue, and this was a chance for stakeholders to voice their concerns directly to EPA staff.

The Arizona business community has concerns about the economic impact of this exceptional events rule, especially the non-attainment issue and the cost to the state.

As we all know, Arizona has a unique desert environment where dust storms or “haboobs” frequently roll through during our summer months. These exceptional events occur regularly in Arizona, and contribute to artificially high air quality readings that have the potential to place counties in non-attainment. A non-attainment designation could have lasting economic consequences on cities, towns and businesses in Arizona. Federal transportation projects are put on strict budgets and often ruled out in non-attainment areas.

The possibility of being placed in non-attainment also presents a lot of uncertainty for businesses in the area. Businesses operating in non-attainment areas already face some of the most stringent regulations in the nation for dust and PM10. Without exceptional event findings, these businesses will be subject to draconian-like regulations. We simply cannot afford tighter restrictions on business. The timeframes for air quality permits also increase when an area has been placed in non-attainment. As Arizona is still climbing out of the recession, we have to be able to get businesses off the ground and running.

Some of these storms in recent years have made international news. These events are no doubt exceptional, but the state is still tasked with proving to the EPA that they contributed to our higher-than-normal air quality readings. These demonstrations are a cost that the agency has to absorb. The Department of Environmental Quality and Maricopa County Air Quality Division have done an excellent job of streamlining this process. And although this partnership has resulted in considerable enhancements, the investment required to handle this documentation process remains unsustainable.

To address these issues, Sen. Flake has recommended that the EPA adopt an exceptional events rule that:

  • Specifies regionally tailored criteria for evidence, analyses, and documentation applicable to EPA’s approval or disapproval of an exceptional event demonstration;
  • Creates a strict timeline by which EPA must review and rule on every exceptional event demonstration submission;
  • Ensures that EPA’s approval of an exceptional event demonstration be based upon a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, if the state supplies sufficient evidence to prove an exceptional event was more likely than not responsible for an exceedance, EPA ought to approve the demonstration;
  • And, allows for states to appeal any EPA decision to disapprove an exceptional event demonstration.

We want to thank Sen. Flake for organizing this opportunity for Arizona business and agricultural stakeholders to voice their comments and concerns and ask questions about the draft rule.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Arizona Shows D.C. How it's Done: A tale of two rollouts

On October 1, two healthcare programs opened for enrollment in Arizona. The first was the federal health insurance marketplace; the second was the recently restored state Medicaid program, Arizona’s Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

Since its creation in 1982, AHCCCS has been the gold-standard for cost-effective managed care in the country. AHCCCS is currently the 9th lowest-cost Medicaid program in the country, boasting costs of about$700 less per enrollee than the national average. The managed care model AHCCCS employs is based on competition, patient choice and appropriate medical management. The program has extremely low processing and eligibility error rates (1.1%compared to a national average of 6.7%) and has been recognized as utilizing “best practices” in cost avoidance and payment recovery activities.

AHCCCS has continuedthis reputation for quality service throughout the enrollment period following Gov. Brewer and the state Legislature’s expansion of eligibility and restoration of coverage for childless adults. Since the new eligibility requirements kicked in on October 1, AHCCCS, under the direction of Tom Betlach, has successfully enrolled thousands of Arizona’s uninsured, working poor. No serious glitches, no excuses, just real coverage in real time.

Contrast this with the rollout of the federal health insurance marketplace. Plagued by fundamental flaws in the website’s infrastructure, the online marketplace has thus far failed to provide the easy-access, affordable coverage the Administration promised. Serious concerns about the privacy of the data that consumers provide to the insurance exchange have further slowed its efficacy.

While the development of the federal health insurance marketplace is far more complex than the enrollment of Arizona’s restored AHCCCS population, the tale of these two health insurance rollouts is significant. Arizonans are fortunate to have a Medicaid program run on the principles of patient choice and efficiency, and the relative effectiveness of these programs over the last month only further highlights the stellar job that the AHCCCS team has done navigating the difficult issue of providing access to healthcare for our state’s working poor. 

Making Arizona a more veteran-friendly place to call home

Today, as we honor our veterans who have given their service to this country, I thought it would be appropriate to briefly mention the important steps that Arizona has taken toward making Arizona a more veteran-friendly place to call home. We know that as increased numbers of veterans are returning back to the civilian life, we need to help them get jobs as quickly as possible and we want to make sure that Arizona is making the transition as smooth as possible. Under the leadership of Representative (and Marine) Sonny Borelli, the Arizona legislature enacted HB2076 earlier this year to ease service members’ return to the civilian workforce in Arizona.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry recognizes that Service members gain valuable skills in their service to this country, skills when transferred to the civilian workforce, benefit both these heroes and the communities they choose to call home. Thanks to Representative Borelli’s vision and his experience as a veteran, legislation enacted this year to smooth the transition of service members back to civilian life and the civilian workforce is a reality. The medics and corpsmen who gain valuable healthcare experience in the service will now have a new opportunity thanks to representatives of the services, leaders in the business community and education community and the Arizona Board of Nursing, who worked together to produce great results: a curriculum to ease the entry of these former members of the armed services into a career in nursing.

The Nursing Board, together with the education community and representatives of the services developed a curriculum to make it possible for service members to bridge the gap to enter a nursing practice. At the September 27, 2013 meeting of the Board of Nursing, the agency voted to approve the curriculum developed from Rep. Borelli’s vision. The Board will be making this curriculum available to education institutions throughout the state and anywhere else where this effort may be put to use. We applaud the hard work of this agency to quickly act on implementing such a critical piece of legislation.

Efforts such as this show the important results that can be achieved when we put our hearts and minds in the effort to implement the visions of our leaders. Together, with great contributions from educators in this state and the services and the State Board of Nursing, this effort stands as a bright example of hard work by a state agency committed to exemplary service through its diligent performance of the work it is called upon to perform. We look forward to working with other agencies to continue building on the exemplary work of the Arizona Board of Nursing.